Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Cowboy Wisdom -- High altitude conditioning for horses

Sunup and Cash in Taquitz Meadow at Saddle Junction

We lost a good friend a couple years back.  Ginger was a real pistol.  She loved horses and dogs, and lived life to the fullest measure.

One time she wanted us to see her family cabin and childhood hangout in Idyllwild, California.  Joyce and I caravan in our motorhomes with Ginger and her husband Robert, each of us pulling a horse trailer.   We stayed in a campground that had corrals for our horses.   The next day we rode on scenic mountain trails. 

Ginger saved the best for last.  All weekend she had been telling us about this great trail with extraordinary views called "Devil's Slide."  She told us it was fairly short--only about 2 1/2 miles--but it had a 1,700 ft. elevation gain in those two plus miles.  That told me it was going to be hard work for the horses, especially because our ride started at an elevation of 6,280 ft.  I was a little bit concerned about their ability to make the climb.

Somewhere I had read some advice about giving horses a couple of days to get conditioned at higher altitudes before making them work hard; and since our horses (who live at sea level) would be working at nearly 8000 feet by time we got to the top of the trail I had some concern.  

Ginger assured me the horses would be just fine.  She said she'd brought her horses up this trail many times in past years.  She was right.  Nobody is going to gallop up Devil's Slide.  It's a narrow single-track trail (not more than two feet wide in many places), and it has lots of one- to two-foot high steps.   Add to that plenty of switch-backs, making the going fairly slow.

Based on my own experience (I'm always huffing and puffing from just a short walk at altitudes over 7,000 ft.) I figured the horses would be plenty tired by the time we got to the top--a flat area called Taquitz Meadow.

I shouldn't have had the least concern because when ol' Sunup got to the top of  that steep trail he turned colt on me and wanted to run everywhere.

Coming back down the trail I had relaxed my rein,  letting Sunup pick his own path.  That rascal must have been getting bored with all those step downs because when I least expected it,  that knot-head leaped over two steps at once.  That wouldn't have been so bad, but the trail was only about two ft. wide, his drop was about four feet, and the drop off the edge of the cliff was at least 500 ft.

One slip of an iron shoe on those granite rocks could have gotten us an introduction to ol' Saint Pete for sure.  Sunup's leap was enough to make me tighten the reins and take  charge of choosing the path from there on :-)

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